Review: Legion of Super-Heroes: The Choice hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Quite fortunately, former DC Comics president Paul Levitz's first real outing on the newest (re)incarnation of the Legion of Super-Heroes is a thousand times better than his lackluster Superboy and the Legion prelude. Legion of Super-Heroes: The Choice is a long, detailed collection filled with xeno-political goodness; with the original team back in the spotlight, this could very well be the best incarnation of the Legion we've seen in over two decades.

[Contains spoilers]

My own opinion is that the Legion of Super-Heroes title can't work completely cut off from the events of the ongoing DC Universe; there's barely another title in publication right now that would be as closed off as that. That after September's DC relaunch we'll have a Legion Lost title specifically set in the present DC Universe suggests someone in editorial agrees. From the start of The Choice, Levitz establishes the Legion's proximity to the DC Universe proper with (albeit nonspecific) references to Flashpoint. A main plot point of Choice involves Green Lantern Corps's Sodam Yat and the search for the next Green Lantern; in this way, Legion feels connected to its fellow titles, and not entirely disconnected.

As well, one of Choice's major subplots involves acolytes of Darkseid kidnapping Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad's children, tying Choice directly to Legion's most noted storyline, The Great Darkness Saga. It doesn't hurt that the kidnappers in question look (hilariously, to Levitz's credit) like Jack Kirby's Simyan and Mokkari and the illusionary visage of Darkseid himself appears a couple of times. The effect, again, is for Choice to feel connected -- to major recent DC milestones like Final Crisis and Blackest Night specifically -- such that a new Legion reader might get the sense that these stories, too, "matter."

With this volume, Levitz distinguishes Legion from standard super-hero fare; if it were just another super-hero team book but set in the future, it might not hold my interest quite as well. Choice involves only one super-villain, well at the beginning, and otherwise revolves around the United Planets' mandate that the Legion induct their enemy Earth-Man as one of their members, how Earth-Man fits in, and the politics of settling a million displaced refugees from the planet Titan. The basis of the Legion concept has always been how characters from different cultures find common ground, and now the Legion is the only unified force in an increasingly fractured universe. This plays out more through how the Legionnaires interact than in their fights with nondescript rebels, making The Choice foremost a wonderful character drama.

The "choice" in question in the story is largely Earth-Man's. Though ardently xenophobic in Geoff Johns's Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes, Earth-Man appears to have mellowed by the time Choice begins, readily accepting Legion membership. His struggle to define his duty on his own terms, even trying and then refusing the role of Earth's Green Lantern, is the most interesting part of Choice, with Earth-Man the breakout character (one cover included, with Earth-Man leading the Legion, is eerily prescient). Still, that Earth-Man seems to be a true, honest Legionnaire by the end of this book (and even over his xenophobia, sleeping with the alien Shadow Lass) seems too easy, and it wasn't clear to me if the reader was to understand Earth-Man's change as honest, or if Earth-Man is being mind-controlled by Brainiac 5 or another Legionnaire.

In fact, my main complaint (though small) about The Choice were the moments of disconnect where I felt I'd missed something, either in an uncollected backup story or by not being as familiar with Legion lore. Some Legionnaires, like Matter-Eating Lad, have resigned without explanation; Lighting Lad has gone in search of his brother's missing twin (though when he found out about the twin we don't know); Shadow Lass has broken up with Mon-El; Tyroc has suddenly returned with new control over his powers, and more. Also, the book's cliffhanger turns on a seemingly minor character, Harmoni Li, perhaps being a time traveler, but it's Brainiac 5 who finds this out, when I don't believe Brainiac 5 meets Li anywhere in the book. It's these things, which Choice presents as a matter of course, which brought me a little out of the book, but not so much I wasn't able to find my way back.

I'd also add that The Choice, enjoyable as it is, just ends, without any real run-up to the finale; then Phil Jimenez draws an epilogue to the main story (perfectly penned by Yildiray Cinar, who will be perfect on the new Firestorm). Levitz seems to write each Legion issue as a self-contained chapter with ties to the ongoing story, which is a fine approach and contributes to Choice reading different from a standard six-issue, one story trade -- but it does bring the book to a sudden, anti-climactic stop. Obviously DC is making a big push for this revitalization of the Legion, collecting the six issues on nice paper with a considerably cover gallery and sketchbook section, but they've kept the credits at the beginning of each issue -- this lends itself more to Choice as a collection of single issues than a graphic novel, though it's a substantial book irrespective.

[Contains original and variant covers, sketchbook section, and a wonderful reprint of Cinar's Legion tryout art where the Legion goes up against a certain New Titans villain ...]

Legion of Super-Heroes: The Choice reminds me of what I liked about Jim Shooter's recent Legion run -- an expansive space epic with more talking and back-room double-dealing than fighting -- but this time, the story involves the Legion. Levitz's Superboy and the Legion made me concerned about his upcoming Legion run -- let alone whether a writer best known for his work in the 1970s-1980s could write in the "modern" style. The dialogue is at times a little stiff, but the story is good, and there's lots of it; consider me relieved, and looking forward to the next volume.
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9 comments:

  1. YEAH!!!!!. I love the Legion!!!!. I have this book but haven't read it yet.

    I learned to love it in Great Darkness Saga.

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  2. Loved the review and also love the book (although i don't own the actual, i do have the single issues). I know some legion fans are against the whole bringing green lantern storylines into the book, but honestly its those ties to Green Lantern that actually brought me to the Legion. It made me want to read past stories and learn more about them. I really am enjoying this run, and am looking forward to this recently announced Legion: Secret Origin book Levitz is writing...speaking of which, what was your reaction to that?

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  3. I'll reserve judgment until the book comes out, but you can say my reaction was "concerned." One, whereas I thought Levitz's "modern" Legion story was good, his "young Legion" story was not, and I'd be concerned Secret Origin would be more of that. Second, I'd hate to see another Legion reboot that removes or changes their relationship with Superman; just when I think DC finally got it right, I think changing it again is just unnecessary confusion.

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  4. Hey CE:

    I have question, what is the style of writing? If it modern or it's similar the 80's style of explaining everything and every action. Cause as much as I enjoyed the story of Great Darkness Saga, Paul Levitz's writing in that era was a chore to get through.

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  5. Modern; good question. Of course with Legion books you're always in for a little more "standing around and talking" than with other titles (I like that, but your results may vary), but I know what you mean about 1980s style narration, and that didn't bother me here. In fact, flipping through the book just now, I'm reminded again how much I liked it, and how eager I am for Levitz's next Legion volume.

    Did you read Levitz's Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, Jackie (and everyone)? What did you think of that?

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  6. @CE

    I did not read Superboy and the LOSH. To tell you the truth, I didn't know it even existed!

    Based on your review and also how much I enjoyed Geoff Johns' Superman/LOSH, I decided to take the plunge and bought the HC (used!). Hopefully it doesn't let me down as Great Darkness Saga did.

    Thanks CE, as always.

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  7. @CE

    I just finish reading LOSH Vol.1. I though the entire story was solid. I'm glad Paul Levitz made the choice to continue w/ the story started by Geoff Johns. But to those people who didn't read that, it seems a bit hard for new readers to jump in. Despite that, I really enjoyed it.

    The only flaw I can complaint about is that there are too many characters. Way too many. I'm glad DC decided have those info bubble on every character that showed but they should have kept at it after every new issue. The only character that I felt I had a strong gasp of was Earth-Man and maybe Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad.

    The art was great. I'm already a huge fan of Yildiray Cinar from his days in Noble Causes and Dynamo 5. His style worked seamless with Francis Portela. Sure, there were pages when you can tell the difference but for the most part both artist was solid. Very few story telling problems.

    I'm definitely going to pick up the next and final volume.

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  8. CE, Brainiac 5 meets Li in the first chapter at the Time Institute when Saturn Girl is boarding the time sphere :)

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  9. I believe you're right and the second time I read this, it didn't trip me up so much. A testament -- for the better, I think -- to just how much goes on in this book, that it's tough to keep a handle on where all the characters are!

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